Congress confirms new head of Library of Congress

Carla Hayden, the new librarian of Congress, was a former president of the American Library Association. (The White House)


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Carla Hayden — a leader in the library community known for her work with technology — has been confirmed as the newest librarian of Congress Wednesday.

Senate voted 74-18 to make Hayden, the CEO of Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library for more than 20 years and a former president of the American Library Association, the first woman and first African-American to hold the position.

She takes the helm of the legislative branch agency at a time when it faces serious technology challenges. Last year, Government Accountability Office cited “significant weaknesses” in how it manages IT — shortcomings that it said “hindered” the Copyright Office, which depends on the LOC for its tech, from meeting “mission requirements.”

And when the previous Librarian James Billington retired last year after nearly 30 years in the role, the New York Times slammed him for resisting digitization and management changes.

Hayden’s supporters, however, have touted her commitment to improving the Baltimore library’s technology, where she spearheaded a $114 million broadband upgrade and modernization project.

“[S]he’s devoted her career to modernizing libraries so that everyone can participate in today’s digital culture,” President Barack Obama said in a statement when he nominated Hayden “And I know she’ll be a good steward for the important role that libraries play in our communities.”

[Read more: Obama nominates new librarian of Congress]

Hayden’s nomination passed unanimously through the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration in June, where members commended her commitment to expanding Internet access and digitizing library documents in Baltimore. Her confirmation has also drawn the support from internet and digital rights advocates.

“As I envision the future of this wonderful institution, I see it growing into stature, not only in librarianship but in how people view libraries in general,” Hayden said in the committee meeting. “As more of its resources are more readily available for people online, users will not have to be in Washington, D.C. Everyone will have a sense of ownership and pride in this national treasure.”

Hayden’s nomination hasn’t been without dissenters. A handful of Republican congressmen and conservative groups found fault with Hayden for opposing the Children’s Internet Protection Act, a law enacted in 2000 that require libraries to use specific filters to block out pornography. She said the filters available at the time weren’t sophisticated enough and blocked access to legitimate content, like health information.

In a commentary for the conservative media outlet PJ Media, Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky wrote the president should have nominated a candidate with a more academic background and cast dispersions on Hayden’s technology savvy. He has also suggested that race and gender could have played a role in her selection.

“Ms. Hayden’s capabilities to undertake anything similar for the Library of Congress appear to be absent; her rudimentary online efforts up until now give the impression of a balky floppy disk in an age of global cloud services,” he wrote in the publication.

However, the Washington Post in an editorial this week wrote that Hayden, who holds a doctorate in library science from the University of Chicago and has served on the National Museum and Library Services Board, “is qualified.” The editorial board urged senators to vote on her nomination.

“The Senate should give Ms. Hayden the consideration she deserves,” according to the paper.

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